Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trying to Find a Reporter's Phone Number - Good Luck

No wonder it’s so hard to find a good media list these days. Some large media corporations have taken a Machiavellian approach to make PR people reach any form of live person. It’s even worse when you try to find something on the web site resembling a phone number - oh and don't bother filling out any of the forms they just go down the rabbit hole.

At least the dating sites like send you a robo response telling you in badly written manual that you have a problem they don't understand. 

Part of the problem is is automation because when they gave up operators of any kind the system was only as good as its programming. If they locked all the programmers in a room and made them try to find something out on the system they designed you can bet it would improve.

Why Media Databases Cost So Much

Picture the poor minions who must update media lists regularly. They start with an email and a phone number that goes to nowhere and a journalist who probably has been laid off or if lucky gotten another job. The thing about interns is they grew up with technology designed to make you text, email and social network without dealing with a real human. So they have no understanding of how to find information in a different kind of world.

I had an intern last summer from an Ivy League school who couldn't get past Then she wondered why nothing that she sent was picked up in the press. Turned out if you sent something to a local Gannett paper it had to be specifically about the county they operated in. If it was the county next door it got tossed. But she never got far enough into the system to learn that. 

This is why companies like Vocus and Cision can charge up to $5,000 a year for their lists and a system that helps you maintain them, which provides actual access to reporters information. Oh it's not always a direct extension but it's a name of someone who has worked their recently.And even if that doesn't work there are other names of people you can call and say things like "I'm trying to reach X but I can't figure out your voice mail system," as innocently and nicely as possible. And they will help you.

I've protected the identities of the media companies I'm talking about except the really good ones, but let me remind everyone that these are communications businesses. Start there.

The Hair Pulling, Screaming Worst – A very well known trade magazine has absorbed two others and is owned by some global media behometh with a name that makes me remember something about fire, gods, power and revenge. The names of the absorbed media outlet are still listed and they've gotten the name of one publication completely wrong in a ridiculous iPhone mistakes kind of way. 

Their telephone system works like this – You call the giant media company and get a dozen options, find the one you think you want, click through a couple more levels, then get a list of the properties they own. The one I'm looking for goes to a voice mail of the editor that I’m pretty positive no one ever listens too. Oh and don't try the old method of hitting operator then # - there is no such thing unless you go back up three levels and it's a robot.

So how do you get reporter's phone numbers if you don't already know them? Well there's no person you can talk too - I've tried calling the VP of sales because he/she must answer the phone to do their jobs. But they don't answer either. I don't usually leave a message because lying enough to get them to call you back is not me.

Oh you can definitely find email addresses for the reporters, some next to their bylines, others buried a few levels into the web site. If they've written stuff elsewhere you can try finding an email that way. You can look on LinkedIn, and send a message to them which probably won't be answered. You can find most of them on Twitter (but if they don't follow you, you cannot send a message). 

The Frustrating, Obnoxious Second Worst – This is also a trade group that I have begun to think uses only freelancers whose information it just refuses to give out. They have some sort of listing on LinkedIn – some of them – but again you're stuck with their system to contact them through. Or you can Google them but it still doesn’t yield an email. One guy I tried to find recently lives behind a wall so thick I have to conclude he's not in the office, not on staff and perhaps on the other side of the planet.

On this system there is no such thing as a live human being you can talk too. It just isn't set up that way. You can send emails but no one will answer them. The next step is probably to go to the buildings they proudly list as their addresses on their web sites and see if they're really there.

The OK System that Doesn't Make You Curse at the Machine – The major consumer news bureaus have people who answer the phones or a voice activated system where you can dial by name - first or last depending on who it is - and get to their actual voice mail. The voice mails offer email addresses and sometimes even cell phones with a warning not to use them unless it's an emergency. That's old-school or at least young, ambitious and well-trained reporter.

Unfortunately you sometimes end up pitching into a machine which is kind of like leaving a message for a date you should wait to have call you. Will he listen to the voice mail in its entirety or hang-up as many people do the minute they realize it's a pitch? Well if he's interested, either way he'll get back to you.

But that's assuming that voice activated system work which can be a crapshoot. You do have option of going back to the operator who usually does come back on and will try to help. The brand name media of my childhood does this, the secondary tier does not. They are the ones where the people don't exist anymore or at least work there, yet they act like they do. 

The Best - four stars for effort. At a major newspaper I find a real phone number (not a circulation office) get a real operator, transfer to a real person who doesn't pick up. I go back to the operator and ask if there's someone else in that department who might be able to help. She tells me that most department don't have assistants anymore. Then she spends the next few minutes on the phone trying to help me find someone until I give up, feel guilty, thank her and go on to the next publication.

Kudos to a trade publishing group too. Behind the name of the writer is a bio - with a real email address or a link to one and yes, a phone number. And people answer their phones, not all the time but they do answer them. With this trade group I was 2 for 3 in actual conversations which is quite good. And they were nice, really nice. Didn't get what I wanted from them yet but I felt better about life after that experience. One of them even called me back - that made my day.

I've been winning new business pitches lately against companies whose leadership drops lot of reporter names and gives the impression all they have to do is pick up the phone and your story will run. Let me assure all of you marketers out there that it's not true. You're probably better off with the media list and a very persistant PR person who knows what they're doing. The story will get out there it just takes time.